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October 2005

Bartram S. Brown
Professor of Law and Co-Director, Program in International and Comparative Law

In the wide-ranging and constantly evolving field of international law, students can learn a lot from a person who is actively involved in shaping the international legal system. Whether leading fact-finding human rights missions to Haiti or Bahrain, drafting international legal procedures in The Hague, or representing the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in negotiations on the International Criminal Court, Professor Bartram S. Brown brings a variety of hands-on experiences to the classroom.

"I find I thrive and perform best when I get involved in practical things, see what's really going on and recognize some important question that nobody has really talked about before," Brown says.

Beginning in fall 1995, Brown took a yearlong sabbatical to work with Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, the American judge who presided over the first trial of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Brown's first assignment -- at a time when the ICTY was still defining its own rules and procedures -- was to prepare a memo on the elements of the crimes for a trial beginning in six weeks. He was eventually asked to lead a team that determined what factors have to be present in order to find a defendant guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity, a sort of "encyclopedia" on the elements of crimes for ICTY judges. "Such a thing had never been done in the history of international law," Brown says. "Every judgment I read, I see my contribution reflected in some way."

A Chicago-Kent professor since 1991 and the co-director of the Program in International and Comparative Law, Brown enjoys telling his students about his experiences. "I've got a lot of war stories," Brown says. "There are a lot of abstract points in international law. This helps to make it more real."

Brown, a member of the national steering committee for Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, uses his experience with NGOs to underline their importance in international law. "In my classes, I stress the fundamental role of NGOs as a channel through which people can put pressure on governments to address international atrocities and other human rights violations," Brown says.  

Brown first became interested in international law through an undergraduate course with Leo Gross, a prominent international law professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. After finishing his bachelor's degree at Harvard, Brown earned his J.D. from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

As a grad student in Geneva, Brown had a unique opportunity to work on a project for the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD initially approached Professor Georges Abi-Saab, a leading scholar on third-world legal issues, to undertake the project. "I remember the day Professor Abi-Saab dragged me off to the U.N. to tell them I was going to do this instead of him," Brown says. "I wasn't sure they were going to buy it, but in the end, they did." The project, a study of a proposed World Bank program -- now known as MIGA, or the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency -- resulted in Brown's first publication since law school, Investment Insurance and the Possibility of Multilateral Action.

Although Brown relishes "drilling the basics" of international law in his classes, he often uses class discussions to relate these fundamental principles to current events. He notes human rights law and international criminal law have "changed completely in the last 10 years," and considers it essential to incorporate the historical and third-world perspective in teaching international law. "Typically, my academic writings will have a historical section, because I feel as though I can't put things in context without it," Brown says.

Brown recently began updating some of the concepts from his book, The United States and the Politicization of the World Bank: Issues of International Law and Policy (Kegan Paul 1992), synthesizing them with recent events as a basis for future scholarship. Other recent projects include a paper for a festschrift honoring DePaul University professor Cherif Bassiouni, a theoretical paper about state responsibility, and a book about the relationship between international law and international politics.

In the past year and a half, Brown has shown no sign of curtailing his heavy international travel schedule. He taught an International Law course to Chinese lawyers in Beijing, was a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, and taught a seminar on the International Criminal Court at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Brown also spoke about international fair trial standards at a seminar organized by the U.S. Department of Justice in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He found it interesting to listen to Kazakh prosecutors, Russian lawyers and U.S. legal experts discuss Kazakhstan's Code of Criminal Procedure, which has not been updated since Soviet times. "What I learned was if a prosecutor has the prerogative to just hold somebody on his own initiative, without any review, they don't want to give it up," Brown says, laughing.


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